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Kelley and Obrigado aim for Spirit of Mass. Trot

July 26, 2017

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They're a wicked-awesome pair; uniquely New England. That's the only way you can describe Maine-bred Obrigado and Massachusetts raised Paul Kelley and they will both be at Plainridge Park on Friday competing in the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts Trot.

Kelley lived in Maine but grew up in Walpole, Mass., just minutes from Foxboro Park. His father Jack Kelley and Bill Bauer raced ponies together at the New England fairs over the summer each year and from there, got interested in trotters at Bay State Raceway (aka Foxboro Park). And that‘s how the younger Kelley got involved in the sport.

"As a kid I used to go over there on summer nights and just sit on the knocker's bench to see guys like Bucky Day, Al Langille, Bob Tisbert and a whole slew of guys that I started watching and that got me interested in the sport," said Paul Kelley.

After having gotten his career started at New England tracks, Kelley has since moved his base of operation from Massachusetts to New York State near Saratoga and now races at every track on the Grand Circuit. However occasionally he has returned to his Massachusetts roots and really likes what he sees at Plainridge.

"I have raced at Plainridge intermittently over the past four or five years so I have a pretty good feel for the place and the track itself. Last year I thought the surface was tremendous. It had a nice bounce to it and I thought it was something the horses would like so I think it is going to play out to be a great race on Friday," said Kelley. "I think they are going to go a heck of a mile over there because all the horses will like the surface."

Kelley will start his millionaire gelding Obrigado and will certainly have his share of fans in the stands rooting for them.

Obrigado is winless this year in four starts but it's certainly not from lack of effort. In the $200,000 Charlie Hill Memorial at Scioto Downs he sat in behind fast fractions set by Crazy Wow and just couldn't catch the leader coming for home and finished second by one and a half lengths.

In the $185,000 Cleveland Trotting Classic at Northfield Park, Obrigado led the whole mile and battled Resolve giving Crazy Wow the trip along the way. He then watched that one go by him in the stretch to win and tie the all-age trotting mark of 1:52.3 at Northfield. Obrigado hung on for third just one length behind.

And in his last start at Yonkers he left from post seven in a 12-horse, mile and a quarter contest and led the entire race before just getting caught at the wire by Hemi Seelster and Homicide Hunter to finish third again by a neck.

"Obrigado got started a little late so he may still be playing catch-up this year. Some of the horses he raced against may have more of a foundation under them right now, but he has raced very well and like himself in most of those starts. He came out of his last race at Yonkers in great shape and I think it's going to set him up really well for this race on Friday," said Kelley.

"I tried to shorten the season up a bit because last year it went right to the end of November and that makes it a long, drawn-out year. Plus he's a year older so I just want to pick my spots. And the fact that this race came up on the calendar this year where it hadn't been before, made my decision easier to not start so early with him."

Last year Obrigado won eight starts, earned $873,300 and took a mark of 1:50.3. All that earned him the 2016 Dan Patch aged male Trotter of the Year award.

For his career, Obrigado has won 42 of 83 starts and has banked $1.7 million in purses. His lifetime mark of 1:50.3 was taken at the Meadowlands last year in the $273,600 Cashman Memorial where he defeated JL Cruze, Crazy Wow and Resolve.

"It's going to be an exciting race for the locals to see the best trotters in North America at Plainridge Park on Friday," said Kelley. "They are all just fantastic horses and they are all capable of putting forth tremendous effort. It's going to be exciting."

Obrigado will ship in Thursday night and will probably jog a few miles on Friday morning to loosen up before he goes to the paddock later in the day. Kelley pointed out that "NHL players do a morning skate; I see no reason why these horses shouldn't get out and stretch their legs a little bit. It's good for them." (Plainridge)
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